News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.
German conglomerate Bertelsmann is buying Napster — a move that promises to keep the struggling file-sharing service alive, at least for the time being. Napster’s founder, Shawn Fanning, and CEO, Konrad Hilbers, will remain with the company. Both were reported ready to resign after the Napster board of directors rejected an earlier Bertelsmann offer.
Napster still faces an uncertain future, with no clear revenue source, operating troubles, and unresolved litigation seemingly involving whole segments of the music industry. Bertelsmann, parent company of major label BMG, says it sees Napster as an important distribution option for its consumers and recording artists. Bertelsmann will reportedly pay $8 million for Napster’s assets. The money will go to Napster’s creditors.
Update: On June 3, Napster filed for bankruptcy protection. Napster’s largest creditor is Bertelsmann, which has advanced $85 million in recent months to keep the company operating. Bertelsmann officials say they are waiting for action by the bankruptcy court.
Conflict is nothing new to the World Wrestling Federation — actually, it’s what they do — so they made the best of it when courts recently ruled that they had signed away the rights to the WWF trademark years ago and awarded the wwf.com domain name to the other WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.
Using the catchy slogan “Get the ‘F’ out!” to dramatize the change, the World Wrestling Federation has removed the F from its logo and changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment. Its new web site can be found at http://www.wwe.com.
Several new CD releases, including the current hit albums by Celine Dion, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez, are being shipped with added software designed to crash computers. Record label Sony says the altered CD format is necessary to keep music buyers from making unauthorized copies of songs on their computers. However, the computer-crashing routine included on the disks also prevents consumers from listening to the CDs on their computers, and in some cases could prevent the computers from restarting after they crash.
The altered CDs contain extra codes at the beginning of the data — essentially a computer program — that Sony says is designed to “lock up” a computer, preventing it from loading the disk or doing anything else after the disk is inserted into the computer’s CD-ROM drive.
With the alterations, the disks no longer meet the CD standard. Therefore, they do not contain the CD-Audio logo. Instead, some of the altered disks bear a small note indicating that the disks cannot be used in computers. However, there is no warning that the disk will crash a computer, even though that is essentially the purpose of the extra codes on the disk.
According to published reports, it is possible to convert the altered disks into regular CDs that play normally. This is said to be as easy as blacking out a small area of the CD surface with a pen.
Singer Dolores O’Riordan is the focal point of the Cranberries’ live show. Her powerful, expressive vocals are what makes the Cranberries’ music special, and in this show, they made little effort to shift the spotlight to anyone else in the band. That’s not to say that it was a one-dimensional show. The entire band played well, and a spectacular light show rendered the songs’ varying moods in larger-than-life size.
Violent conflict has always been a theme in the Cranberries’ music, and for the song “Zombie,” O’Riordan explained that she had written that song about terrorism in their home country of Ireland and expressed sorrow at the way terrorism had recently found its way to the United States — a thoughtful gesture in the band’s first U.S. show of this tour.
The extended set consisted mostly of hits from the band’s decade of recordings, but the band sounded sharpest on songs from the new album Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. The title, O’Riordan explained, refers to the way shocking events can make a person pay more attention to the small pleasures that make life meaningful, such as coffee in the morning.
A seven-minute standing ovation at the conclusion of the show brought the band back for several encores, and O’Riordan promised the band would be back again soon.
Flickerstick, a Texas-based but English-sounding band with more than a passing resemblance to Oasis, played a creditable 40-minute set to open the show. They then walked offstage mid-song. It was a deliberate stunt, but one that confused the audience, who offered only scattered applause for the empty stage and departed band.
They make it look so easy. Electric Light Orchestra had more hit singles than any other rock band in the mid 1970s. Twenty-five years later, less than half of the original members are still in the band and they are playing under the shortened name the Orchestra, but they still make it look as if their seemingly endless string of hits is all in a day’s work. Actually, the Orchestra in 2002 is a more exciting live band than Electric Light Orchestra was c. 1977, and it’s simply because the show now centers on the musicians themselves rather than the technology that dominated the band’s arena shows in the 1970s.
Virtuoso violinist Mik Kaminski is the one instantly recognizable figure in the Orchestra, while singer/bassist Kelly Groucutt runs the show from his center stage position. Groucutt is one of three singers in the band, which also includes orchestrator Sir Louis Clark playing orchestral keyboards.
The show kicked into high gear immediately with “Turn to Stone,” the first of over a dozen top 10 hits included in the set. The band also played about half the songs from their forthcoming album, including a surreal rendition of “Twist and Shout.” But it was compelling performances of classics such as “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” and “Do Ya” that drew the loudest cheers from the packed house.
The musical high point came late in the show with a medley of “Standing in the Rain” and “Mr. Blue Sky,” elaborately orchestrated songs from the Out of the Blue album. The encore was, as always, the band’s biggest hit, “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The chorus of this song is not the kind of melody you would normally ask an audience to sing, but the Orchestra did anyway, and the audience responded as if they had been singing the song all their lives. Apparently, at an Orchestra concert, even the audience makes it look easy.
The Orchestra: http://www.theorchestra.net
Mozilla is close enough to release version 1.0 of their web browser that they have started to plan their release party. Preliminary versions of the free open-source browser have been used as the foundation for the two leading browsers, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Now that Mozilla is about to have an official release, it could quickly become the standard browser.
In addition, it is expected that AOL could start to use the Mozilla browser in its client software at some point, perhaps as early as next year. However, industry observers caution that Mozilla version 1.0 is not really a completed product, and most users are likely to wait at least until version 1.1, which is expected to follow within a few months.
Mozilla released a third release candidate for 1.0 on May 25, and the actual 1.0 release is expected this month.
Update: Mozilla released version 1.0 on its web site on June 5. Mozilla: http://www.mozilla.org
Monthly progressive rock newsletter Music News Network has “entered the digital age” with a switch from publishing on paper to a subscription-based web site. In a letter to subscribers, the newsletter said it was time to make the change because most subscribers now have regular web access.
Belly dancer Soraya is one of a number of entertainers who have moved their web sites to the new .us domain names.
Jewel was injured on April 24 when she was thrown from a horse in Texas. She suffered two broken bones and bruises and cancelled her appearances for two weeks, but is planning to recover in time for her tour of Europe and a subsequent tour of North America.
The European tour is still scheduled to start May 16. However, Jewel’s doctor says she will not be able to play guitar until early June — still in time for the start of her North American tour on June 14. Jewel is touring to support her new album, This Way.
A new web site created by Unisys and Microsoft to encourage businesses to switch from the Unix operating system to versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system launched on April 1 — but the anti-Unix site, like more than 90 percent of web sites, was actually running on a Unix-based Web server! To compound the embarrassment, the site suffered from serious technical problems the next day when Unisys attempted to move it to a Microsoft IIS-based web server, and then it was completely offline for the next two days.
When a working web site finally appeared on Friday at http://www.wehavethewayout.com, it provided little factual information about the comparison between Unix and Windows, but gave visitors the opportunity to request literature to be mailed to them.
In attempting to sell its server operating systems, Microsoft faces stiff competition from Linux and other Unix-like operating systems. Experts say that, for servers, Linux is more reliable and easier to set up and operate than Microsoft’s operating systems. Linux has the additional advantages of being free, and like all operating systems in the Unix family, is fully documented — a combination of features that Microsoft has been finding hard to beat.
Breakfast is set to launch a revamped web site with a new domain name. The new site will have improved navigation to reflect the company’s recent growth. At its two previous web addresses, the web site was using essentially the same navigation that it had when it originally launched in 1997.
The new web site, debuting soon at http://www.breakfast.us, is one of the first web sites to use the new commercial .us domain names. Unlike the unrestricted domain names such as .com and .info, .us is available only to U.S. residents and businesses. Breakfast was unable to obtain the domain names breakfast.net and breakfast.info because these names are owned (but are not being used) by people located in other countries. There was no such problem with breakfast.us.
Breakfast is a media company based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Most visitors to the Breakfast web site are looking for information on rock and shamanic journeying music and SAS programming books. The new Breakfast web site is coming just in time for the release of a new book that Breakfast says is its most important book release yet; Professional SAS Programming Shortcuts will be in stores May 21.
Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman is rejoining the band. In four previous stints with Yes, Rick played on 10 albums. With Rick on board, the band is planning a summer tour; so far, two dates have been announced. Explaining the timing of rejoining the band, Rick praised Yes’s current management team and said, “It feels absolutely right and I am really looking forward to getting together and firing up the new keyboard rig.” A video release of the summer tour is likely.
Hoping to expand on the phenomenal success of their song “You’re Not the Boss of Me,” rock band They Might Be Giants have launched a new kid-friendly web site, http://www.giantkid.net.
Paul Gallo, the publisher who was the driving force behind the pro-audio journal Pro Sound News and also created a dozen related magazines, stepped down at the end of March. Paul says he will remain active in the pro audio community. The staff of Pro Sound News says they will do their best to “live up to the vision” that Paul provided.
Several producers contributed to the new album by Celine Dion, her first in over four years. A New Day Has Come includes songs produced by Mutt Lange, David Foster, Ric Wake, and others.
Kansas is planning to produce its DVD Video debut by filming a concert on June 15 in Atlanta. The concert at EarthLink Live will be the first concert Kansas has filmed since 1992.
To ensure that they draw an audience of true fans for their DVD event, Kansas is selling all tickets directly through their web site.
Now a five-member band, Kansas is touring almost continuously this year. The 2002 tour began with a pre-Super Bowl event in February and is scheduled to continue through November.
A new album, completed last month, is based on “classic Todd Rundgren vocal tracks”, combined with newly recorded backing tracks.
Songs recorded for the project include “Hello It’s Me,” “Bang the Drum All Day,” “Time Heals,” and “A Dream Goes On Forever.” Musicians involved include Billy Sherwood, Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard), Edgar Winter, and Richie Kotzen (Mr. Big).
Two of the largest computer manufacturers are preparing to merge after a recent shareholder vote apparently approved the action. The narrowly divided vote among HP shareholders appears to have approved the merger by a very slim margin, although the vote count has not been finalized and one shareholder’s vote is being contested in a lawsuit.
The merger has been mired in controversy since it was first proposed. Many critics have said the merger would be bad for customers, and some large customers of both companies have said they would not expect to be buying equipment from the merged company if the merger were to go through. In some cases, customers are concerned that the equipment or services they depend on could be discontinued. Other critics simply contend that there is no synergy in the merger and that the two companies, already in serious financial difficulty, would just dig themselves into a deeper financial hole with the costs of merging.
Compaq already owns another major computer maker, Digital, acquired in a previous transaction. The combination of HP and Compaq represents the largest merger ever in the computer industry. However, the market value of the two companies is down by more than half from this time last year, so the new HP-Compaq might effectively end up not being any larger than HP or Compaq was separately.
Aster Farm Studio takes on a slick new look this month with the addition of a high-gloss black stage. As Rick explains, the purpose of the stage is to make performers feel more at home, specifically musicians who could have played hundreds of concerts, but might not have been in the studio that often. “I’ve never seen a studio with a stage in it,” Rick says, “but I don’t know why not.”
Jewel’s summer tour will be followed by a smaller acoustic tour in the fall.
Breakfast last month won the lottery for the domain name breakfast.biz. Breakfast expects to have that web address active by May.
Asia toured Europe and Britain in February and March. In addition to singer John Payne and keyboardist Geoff Downes, the band now includes drummer Chris Slade, who played for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band at the peak of that band’s success. For the tour, they were joined by “guitarist extraordinaire” Guthrie Govan.
The ska-punk style is very much alive, thanks to bands like Monster Crossing. This new band’s sound is built around singer Paul Nordquist, lead guitarist Mike Bassick, and a four-piece horn section.
The debut album Honk If You Love Monsters took more than a year to record and was released in January. The unmistakeable album cover design features four cartoon monsters in a crosswalk. Another unusual touch on the album comes from the electric harp playing provided by Nathan-Andrew Dewin of the Red Masque — undoubtedly a first in ska-punk.
Monster Crossing: http://www.fjordstone.com/monstercrossing/
In the last two years, Internet job sites have become more important than newspapers in connecting job-seekers and employers, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Web sites filter and distill job postings, often leaving job-seekers wishing for information that is more complete and accurate.
For their part, employers are reeling at the high cost of Internet job sites. Employers pay a monthly fee for every job they list, at rates substantially higher than the price of classified advertising in a local newspaper. A group of employers is now betting that a search-oriented job site will work better.
Direct Employers is a new not-for-profit job site owned by its employer members. Employers can list an unlimited number of job openings for an annual fee comparable to what a traditional job site charges for a single job listing. Job-seekers will find job information faster with the new service’s uncluttered look, fast response times, and direct links to employer sites. A job-seeker who finds a likely-looking job or employer can apply directly to the employer, instead of having to apply through the job site. And unlike many job sites, Direct Employers does not keep track of job-seekers’ personal information for advertising purposes.
For Direct Employers to succeed, it needs to have a large base of job openings to attract job-seekers. A quick search for selected keywords shows that its job base is less than half of what you would find on the largest job sites, but that may already be too many jobs for job-seekers to ignore.
Even as he is still promoting his latest book release, Professional SAS Programming Logic, Rick Aster has finished writing a new book, Professional SAS Programming Shortcuts. This book is a collection of tips and techniques, similar to his best-selling title, the now out-of-print Professional SAS Programming Secrets. Breakfast Books has Professional SAS Programming Shortcuts scheduled for a May release.
Bouyed by his showing at the Concert For New York City and later at the Super Bowl, Paul McCartney is planning a world tour this summer. The tour will promote his new album Driving Rain.
The Red Masque are putting together a progressive-rock showcase event. The Philadelphia Underground Music and Culture Festival will take place June 1 in Philadelphia.
Record companies, searching for ways to keep people from making digital copies of music CDs, have begun experimenting with “copy protection” schemes. There is actually no way to prevent the copying of a CD, so these CDs are digitally damaged in a way that prevents them from being played on computers. The alterations also prevent playback on DVD players, in many portable CD players, and in many very old and very new CD players.
According to record companies defending the new technology, the inconvenience of not knowing whether you will be able to play a music CD or not is necessary to reduce the unauthorized copying of CD tracks that they say is cutting into CD sales. Record sales in all formats were down more than 10 percent last year.
Only a few CD releases have been altered to prevent playback on computers, as record companies experiment with competing technological approaches. Some of the compromised CDs are stickered to warn consumers of their limited playability, but others have no such warning, a tactic that has prompted lawsuits against the record companies. The suits, filed under consumer protection laws, charge the record companies involved with deliberately selling a defective product.
Besides the questionable legality of the tactic, there is a more fundamental reason why altering CDs to prevent computer playback is likely to fail. Millions of music fans depend on their computers to listen to music CDs, and if the CDs they purchase cannot be played, they will inevitably find a way to make undamaged playable copies of the CDs — exactly the behavior the “copy protection” is supposed to discourage.
Apple Computer announced a new iMac in January. The original iMac computers included a traditional CRT display, but the new iMacs are updated with a flat screen. The computer itself is hidden away in the small base that supports the screen. http://www.apple.com
Irish rock band the Saw Doctors start their largest U.S. tour in recent years this month. http://www.sawdoctors.com
A Celine Dion web site, in French and English, can now be found at http://www.celinedion.com.
Music and sports: U2 and Paul McCartney provide the soundtrack for football fans at the Super Bowl this month. Jewel is the featured performer for the NHL All-Star Game.
It is tough to keep the driving beat of rock intact when you put together a rock band and a symphony orchestra, but Yes more than pulls it off on their new album. Actually, Magnification is the most rhythmically compelling album Yes has recorded in more than a decade, with some stunning performances by the rhythm section of Alan White and Chris Squire. With no keyboardist in the band for this album, guitarist Steve Howe gets space to work with and makes good use of it. Though there are no likely hits on the album, the 10 songs, all new, show the kind of depth and imagination that you would expect from a band that many consider the most influential progressive rock band of all time. Oh, and the orchestra? It’s not symphonic music, but it’s not your typical pop string parts either. The orchestrations, contributed mostly by Larry Groupé, are unique and imaginative and give the album a sound not likely to be mistaken for any other music ever recorded.
On music-download site mp3.com, the top comedy music act in Philadelphia this Christmas season was Bah & the Humbugs. With the release of their 2001 Christmas-card CD, the band held not just the top spot, but for most of Christmas week, the top four spots on mp3.com’s Philadelphia comedy chart. Their millennium song “12/25/01” led the way.
The band also made a dent in the national chart, placing three songs in the top 200 of the U.S.A. comedy chart. Bah & the Humbugs are a rock band that specializes in Christmas novelty songs.
Monday is always a big mail day, and Christmas Eve even bigger, so combine the two and you have the biggest mail day ever. That was the case on December 24, 2001, and there was even more mail because it was a season in which many Americans were not traveling because of security concerns. But by most accounts, the U.S. Postal Service was ready for the heavy volume and delivered the Christmas rush of mail nearly as well as a normal day.
It is the biggest event in the history of money: on January 1, the euro becomes legal tender. The new multinational currency was delivered by the truckload to replace the national currencies of more than 10 European countries. Euros are also accepted in several other countries where they are not the official currency.
MTV’s top 100 countdown had punctuated every year since the music video channel went live 20 years ago, but this year was different. Cutting back, MTV played only 50 videos in its year-end countdown on December 31, 2001. The top 50 took only 6 hours, compared to the 10 or 11 hours required to play the top 100 in years past. Another advantage of the shorter countdown: the average video music fan would recognize every video in the top 50.
Lower prices for records? That’s what some financial analysts, most notably Merrill Lynch, are predicting. $9.99 has become a frequent discounted price point for music albums normally priced at $15.98 to $19.98. But with sales off 20 percent from a year ago and manufacturing costs lower than ever, many think $9.99 could become the new standard price for music CDs. This could lead to a shakeout in music retail; most record retailers are struggling already, and losing nearly half of their markup could lead many of them to close their doors.
Prices have already declined in the movie business. Movie DVDs that a year ago sold for $20 to $25 are now selling for $10 to $15. The low price of movies should eventually cut into the movie rental business. Movie fans who pay $4 to rent a movie might decide they prefer to spend a few dollars more to purchase it, and distributors are sure to experiment with lower prices in an attempt to get more consumers to buy rather than rent.
According to published reports, Universal is trying to get out of its deal with Mariah Carey. The major labels have been cutting their rosters every year for at least the last 10 years, but it is still a surprise that a record company would want to cut loose the biggest recording star of the last ten years. To the majors’ detractors, this is just another sign that the major record labels are falling apart at the seams.
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